by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 23, 2004
'OUTFOXED' AND THE MYTH OF THE LIBERAL MEDIA
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Along with about 100 other people, I crammed myself into a small, stuffy room on the campus of the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt., on Sunday night to see a screening of "Outfoxed," Robert Greenwald's documentary about the Fox News Channel.
It was one of 18 showings around the state sponsored by the campaign committee of Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders, one of the few members of Congress who would sponsor the showing of a film attacking Rupert Murdoch and FNC's right-wing agenda.
I watch very little television news. And I have studiously avoided FNC over the years, aside from reading the transcripts of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity's more outrageous moments, cataloged on various blogs. Greenwald's 75-minute film was my first extended exposure to the swarminess, the outrageous bias, the almost laughable cheerleading for conservatives that constitutes the "fair and balanced" journalism of FNC.
The film points out one of the biggest failures of liberalism in the past 30 years: not recognizing the importance of media in controlling the political debate. As media scholar Robert McChesney, who plays a prominent role in "Outfoxed," once wrote: "Whatever your first issue of concern, media had better be your second, because without change in the media, progress in your primary area is unlikely."
If you look at the raw numbers, Fox News draws a fraction of the audience that ABC, NBC and CBS draw for their nightly news programs. The big three networks still draw a combined 25 million households each night. Fox News draws about two million. The problem, as we know, is that the audience that watches FNC are the conservative true believers that help the GOP win elections.
While liberals sat on the sidelines, conservatives built up a media apparatus - epitomized by FNC - that fosters ideological unity, is totally devoted and works hard to promote conservative policies.
As Greenwald's film masterfully shows, conservative media, for the most part, is focused not on what is true, but rather what can advance the cause. Unencumbered by the traditional notions of journalism, FNC can shamelessly promote themselves as being fair and balanced, while either attacking, marginalizing or altogether avoiding opposing points of view.
Liberals have nothing comparable. That's because the prevailing ethos of the corporate press has always been conservative. Its natural inclination is to preserve the status quo. It also clings to traditional journalism notions of objectivity, so the corporate press ends up being far more accommodating to conservatives than outlets such as FNC are accommodating to liberals.
Dan Kennedy, the media critic of the Boston Phoenix, pulled this telling nugget from Bill Clinton's autobiography, "My Life." In the passage, Clinton tells about a conversation he had with former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson regarding the political leanings of the press.
"You know," Simpson said, "before you [Clinton] were elected, we Republicans believed the press was liberal. Now we have a more sophisticated view. They are liberal in a way. Most of them voted for you, but they think more like your right-wing critics do, and that's much more important. ... Democrats like you ... get into government to help people. The right-wing extremists don't think government can do much to improve human nature, but they do like power. So does the press. And since you're president, they both get power the same way, by hurting you."
In other words, on social hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion rights and gun control - issues that ultimately aren't that important in the larger scheme of things - there is a liberal bias in the corporate press. On the important issues, such as the economy and the national security state, the corporate press sits squarely on the right. And, to counteract the perennial cry of liberal bias by conservatives, the corporate press goes out of its way to attack liberal politicians.
This construct makes Fox News that much more powerful, especially since its model of attacking liberals for fun and profit is the fast becoming the dominant one in the corporate media.
This is why "Outfoxed" represents something important - the need for liberals to recognize how powerful the corporate press has become and the importance of challenging it at every turn. Until there is a television network that is the liberal equivalent of Fox News Channel (except with more truthfulness and less screeching), we'll have to settle for films like "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Outfoxed" to take the fight to the conservatives.
Morgan Spurlock, the director and star of the anti-fast food film, "Super Size Me," told the online magazine Salon that there's a reason why the documentary has become the hot new medium for progressive, anti-corporate storytelling.
"I think that documentary is your last bastion for any truth today," Spurlock said. "It's the one place where you have no media conglomerate telling you what to say, the one place where people aren't going to put a vice on opinion and fact. You can put something out that takes a stand and says, 'Listen, you need to know this.'"
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.